Roseanne Barr talks comedy, her Jewish roots and more with the JN prior to “Alive and Kicking” show on May 19 at the Fox.
By Sara Eaker
Photography by FMHT Studios
Roseanne Barr is a lot of things: a comic, the driving force, creator and actor from one of the top 20 TV shows for nine consecutive seasons, Roseanne, a mother, a grandmother, a Golden Globe and Emmy award winner — and always controversial. Last year, she was removed from her show for a tweet she made that was considered racist.
The original “domestic goddess” brings her live standup tour, “Alive and Kicking,” to Detroit Sunday, May 19, at the Fox Theatre, and says she is ready to make America laugh again.
This reporter had a pre-Passover phone interview with Barr from her macadamia farm on the Big Island of Hawaii.
RB: Hi, it’s Roseanne. She could be picking up her dry cleaning. It is nasally. It is unimpressed, and it is legendary.
JN: Hello, Ms. Barr, how are you?
RB: I’m good.
JN: Are you getting ready for Pesach? I just made my matzah “crack,” so I am ready to go.
RB: Is that the one with the chocolate toffee? Of course, I have heard of it, are you kidding me? It’s so good.
JN: It is so good. I don’t know if it is going to make it to the seder table tomorrow night.
RB: It’s the pre-seder seder. I think God would approve of that. I will go with it. Laughing.
RB: I’m looking forward to coming to Detroit.
JN: We are looking forward to having you. Tell me a little bit about your show and why we need to see it.
RB: Well, because it’s hilarious. It’s really got some good writing and good jokes that I want people to hear. I still feel like I have stuff to say and so I keep on saying, and it’s fun. I love standup. That is really what I am. It’s cool to be able to still to do it. It is a great art form.
JN: When is the last time you performed standup?
RB: I was doing a Canadian tour as I was doing the Roseanne promotion, it’s been a little over a year.
JN: Do you test out your material in smaller venues before you go on tour?
RB: No. I’ve got a great 90-minute concert. I’ve been working it for a number of years off and on, and it’s finally really great. I love it.
JN: Do you prefer that kind of connection with your audience vs. TV?
RB: Oh yeah, it’s right off the top of your head. There is always the element of surprise, and it’s fun to see people laughing.
JN: What do you find funny lately? Who are your inspirations in the comedy world? Did you always know you could make people laugh?
RB: There is nothing I don’t find funny. These are hilarious times we are living. It’s a laugh a minute. Here comes her famous belly laugh, rolling out what we all heard in the opening credits every night from 1988 to 1997. It is contagious.
RB: It’s upside down and backwards in every which way. We need to laugh. A lot. This political climate has fired up a lot of comics to come out and start doing their thing; and you know that is what is great about having a Republican president — I just think they are funnier. There is more material. When we have a Democrat, nobody laughs at anything. It’s good to laugh. That’s why I voted for Trump.
JN: It’s like President Obama. He is a gentleman, cares about people and the planet and loves his wife a lot. I can see that. There is not a lot of material there.
RB: The truth is hilarious. Just to see the look on people’s faces when it dawns on them they have been tricked is so funny. Laughing helps you swallow a lot of shame.
JN: Yes, my Baba (Yiddish for grandmother) always said, “If we don’t laugh, we will cry.”
RB: Right. There is so much to laugh at, and Obama is hilarious right now. I have a great Obama joke. It is a show-stopper.
JN: Do you want to share it with us?
RB: Oh, hell no!
JN: OK, we will let that be a cliffhanger.
RB: Let that be the trailer. I have been touring with my act and, at first, people were mad and would not laugh, and then I kept on doin’ it and then they would laugh and then would really laugh and then they would roar at things they thought they were not supposed to laugh at — and that’s the job of the comedian, and it’s a good time for it.
JN: Do you relate to other comics like Kathy Griffin, who has been “blacklisted” by Hollywood, and how does your situation compare to men like Alec Baldwin who get a pass with homophobic slurs and public fist fights, but continues to be praised and does not have this affect his work? Do you want to talk about that at all?
RB: Well, not really. He [Alec] called me a Nazi and that is offensive to me as a Jew, and Jews and I can’t come back from that, I’m sorry. Especially Jewish conservative comics, we have been de-platformed everywhere and that needs to be said. Whatever. People are supporting my live comedy, so I really appreciate that, and I’m glad I can do it and I’m glad I can still make people laugh and think and see their faces. It’s cool.
So, I’m getting my outfits together, that’s like so much stress, oh, my God, and if I’m going to gain any more weight, so you know it’s all of that … I want to look different than people have seen me look before. They have either seen me in character, well, I’m always in character … but, this time, I am actually not going to be in character. I’m actually going to be me.
I do have a clothes fetish, I have to admit. I used to go over to Phyllis Diller’s house and she always loved costumes and to dress up and “play act,” as we called it, because that is what we did when we were girls. She left me several of her costumes. I just want to pick out the perfect outfit for my fans to really be blown away because I think I am a fashion icon. I should be mentioned as a fashion icon instead of all of these terrible things they are calling me … that I don’t dress well. Well, I do. I’m a Jewish woman. When I walk out, I want everyone to see a real, live, loud-mouthed, old Jewish woman.
JN: You are not old!
RB: Yes, I am. I am proud of it. Like Richard Pryor said, “You don’t get to be old being a fool.”
JN: I like that.
RB: Well, do you think you got enough? I have to go to the bathroom.
JN: Can your bladder hang on? I still have a couple more questions. How has your Jewish faith gotten you through this tough time?
RB: Oh, it is everything to me. It has gotten me through every tough time. I have had a number of them. It once again brought me closer to source and that is always great.
JN: You were just in Israel with your son, what was that like?
RB: It was fantastic, and I saw a lot of great things, met a lot of great people, bought a lot of beautiful art items and had wonderful food. It was just wonderful to be there and to be able to speak to people, too.
JN: You won the Eleanor Roosevelt Freedom of Speech Award.
RB: I did, yeah.
JN: Where do you think the line should be drawn or not drawn when it comes to freedom of speech?
RB: I think [it] should be drawn at truth and, uh, you know, it’s really disgusting to me that I’ve talked about the truth at the meaning of my Tweet and that has just been censored. They continually smear me and say they know better than I what I wrote, and it’s just so, so anti-Semitic at times, it blows my mind. But, whatever. People are going to hear from me. They’re not going to shut this old Jew up quite yet.
JN: And, on that note, it sounds like, in your own words, “this old Jew” needs to go to the bathroom.
RB: I do. It was nice talking with you.
JN: Likewise! Thank you.
Comedian Roseanne Barr will be performing at 7 p.m. Monday, May 19, at the Fox Theatre. For tickets, starting at $25, visit 313presents.com, call the theater at (313) 471-3200 or go to ticketmaster.com.